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Old Berrien County Courthouse Complex facts for kids

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Old Berrien County Courthouse Complex
Old Berrien County Courthouse.png
Courthouse Complex c. 1880
Location Roughly bounded by Cass, Kimmel, Madison and Union Sts., Berrien Springs, Michigan
Area 1.5 acres (0.61 ha)
Built 1837 (1837)
Architectural style Italianate, Greek Revival
NRHP reference No. 82004941
Added to NRHP April 29, 1982

The Old Berrien County Courthouse Complex is a historic district containing four significant structures, three former county buildings and a house. It is located in Berrien Springs, Michigan and roughly bounded by Cass, Kimmel, Madison and Union Streets. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.


Berrien County was first organized in 1831. The first attorney in the county, Francis B. Murdock, arrived here in about 1830 and constructed a log house near this location in 1832. The location of the county seat was in flux for the first few years, court being held first in Niles and then in St. Joseph. In 1837, it was moved to the more geographically central Berrien Springs. Berrien Springs donated four lots at this site on which to construct county buildings. A jail with jailor's residence was constructed here in 1837/38. In 1838, Gilbert Button Avery, a local builder, designed a building to house the county court. Builder James Lewis was awarded a contract to erect the building for $2,500; construction was completed in 1839.

County records were originally kept in the courthouse basement, but because of the potential danger from dampness and fire in this frame structure, a separate county office building was built in 1860-61 by local contractor George H. Murdoch at a cost of $3000. In 1869, a new jail and sheriff's residence was built at a cost of $26,720.34. In 1873, the county built a larger, "fire-proof" office building at a cost of $5609.52; the 1860 building became the rear wing of the new building.

However, despite the new construction, by the 1870s, the courthouse became too small to hold county records, and county residents of the more populous coastal towns grumbled about the poor transportation to Berrien Springs. By the early 1890s, the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor came to an agreement about siting a new courthouse, and a county-wide vote was instituted, with the plan to move the courthouse prevailing. In 1894, the county seat was moved to St. Joseph.

After the relocation of the county seat, the former courthouse complex was sold to private individuals in 1897. The courthouse itself served for a few years as village hall, as an armory for the Berrien Springs Light Guard, and was used from 1922 to 1967 by the Berrien Springs Village Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The jail was demolished, and the sheriff's residence and office building were remodeled into apartments. The Murdock log house was built onto, becoming a wing of a more modern house. However, the buildings gradually decayed over the years of the twentieth century.

In 1967, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church put the former courthouse up for sale, and there was some talk of demolishing the buildings. Historical societies in the county joined together to preserve the courthouse. In 1968, the county re-purchased the buildings and leased it to the Berrien County Historical Association, which slowly restored the building. In 1968, the house to which the Murdock log house was attached was demolished; the Association saved the Murdock house from demolition and in 1973 moved it from its original site a short distance to the present site within the courthouse complex. The Association gradually acquired effective control over the remaining county buildings in the complex.


The Old Berrien County Courthouse Complex is located on a two-acre site which was formerly a courthouse square. It contains four historical structures: The former Berrien County Courthouse, constructed in 1839; the former county office building, constructed in 1860-61 and enlarged in 1873; the former county sheriff's residence, constructed in 1869; and the F. B. Murdock House, a log structure constructed in about 1832 and moved to the present site in 1973.

Old Berrien County Courthouse

Barrien Springs Courthouse.jpg

The Old Berrien County Courthouse is individually listed on the National Register. The courthouse is a white frame Greek Revival end-gable structure on a high brick basement, measuring 41 feet by 61 feet. It has a portico across the front with four 20 foot high fluted Doric columns, with a small balcony within the portico. The exterior of the building is clad with clapboard, and a series of triple-sash windows, 15 feet high, line the sides and rear of the building.

County office building

The Records Building of Old Berriem County Courthouse Complex.jpg

The county office building is a two-story brick Italianate structure with a low hip roof and a fieldstone foundation. It has a central recessed entrance and arched windows with sandstone sills. The structure has a metal cornice. On the rear of the building is a single-story red brick, gable-roofed wing with sandstone trim. This was the original office building, constructed in 1860/61.

Sheriff's residence

The sheriff's residence is a two-story red brick house with a low roof. The main entrance is sheltered by a portico and flanked by paired, four-over-four, sash windows. a brick cornice tops the building.

Murdock log house

The Murdock log house is a two-story, gable-roofed log structure measuring 20 feet by 30 feet. It has a wood shingle roof, and the gables are covered with vertical board.

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